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BERLINALE 2020 Competition

Fabio and Damiano D’Innocenzo • Directors of Bad Tales

“We wanted to put the viewers in a position of uneasiness”

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- BERLINALE 2020: We met up with Fabio and Damiano D’Innocenzo, back in Berlin with Bad Tales, the most unnerving fairy tale in the main competition

Fabio and Damiano D’Innocenzo  • Directors of Bad Tales
(© Fabio D'Innocenzo)

Fabio and Damiano D’Innocenzo’s Bad Tales [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Fabio and Damiano D’Innocenzo
film profile
]
, their second film at the Berlinale after 2018’s Boys Cry [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Damiano and Fabio D’Innocenzo
film profile
]
, sees a small community on the outskirts of Rome trying to survive another sweltering summer. But there is no shade that will protect them from all the growing anxiety and frustration, nor from the stare of their children, who notice every single mistake they are trying to hide.

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Cineuropa: Your film brings to mind all those darker fairy tales that one listens to as a child. Did you also see it as such?
Damiano D’Innocenzo:
It’s only since the beginning of the last century that fairy tales have started to have happy endings. But that’s not why they were told, at least not originally, and that’s not their goal! They are supposed to teach you how to survive in life – they are your very own Boy Scout Handbook, so to speak. Also, it’s mostly the parents who need to be constantly reassured that everything will turn out alright. They are the ones figuring out if they can bring their child to see certain films, if they are appropriate for them or not. But not us – we wanted it all to feel very rustic and raw. There is a reason why we like the Brothers Grimm and Russian tales the most.

I remember your previous film [Boys Cry], and now it has become perfectly clear that you are not afraid of showing people doing bad things. Is that something you see when you look at the world? Also when it comes to kids?
Fabio D’Innocenzo:
We are very sensitive people, and we would often fall victim to the nastiness of others. Which, at least in our country, seems to be only spreading – it’s an acceptable attitude now, and people are becoming almost de-humanised. To us, it’s a shock, this time we are living in. We do have problems with communicating with others sometimes, and hopefully it will become a much gentler world one day. Which is why every time we have an opportunity to tell a story, we do not try to embellish reality. We show it the way we experience it, and yes – we see nastiness everywhere. In our film, children try to imitate grown-ups; they imitate what they see. That’s why this light-heartedness, usually associated with childhood, is simply no longer there.

Why did you decide to set it all during the summer? It just makes everyone seem more agitated, with visible traces of sweat following them around wherever they go.
FD:
It was more of a stylistic choice. We needed the sun in order to control the light, obviously, but also to stress the vulgar traits of our grown-up characters and, on the contrary, to emphasise the gentleness and delicacy of their children’s faces. We also needed water – it’s another element that can embrace you lovingly or become almost obscene, like in the scene with [one of the main actors] Elio Germano. When his character is supposed to be resting, floating in the sea, the water surrounding him is just filthy. Like in a sewer.

Bad Tales almost has its own smell – the kind that’s not necessarily too pleasant. Also because here, with this extreme heat, bodies just seem to cause problems.
FD:
We talked about this during the writing, and it’s true – the feeling that’s common to most of our characters could be compared to being locked in a cage. But it’s not just about the body – it’s also about the mind and the soul. These people seem to be completely bottled up. They nurture their resentment, their jealousies and frustrations, unable to fulfil their dreams. They are brooding over all of this, so of course it’s reflected in the body as well. They can’t communicate – least of all with themselves, or with their children. They are perfectly used to hiding these feelings because after 20 years of Berlusconi’s macho attitude, we are still being told it’s shameful to show your fragility, especially when you are a man. The children can sense all of these uncertainties from a mile off.

Did you always want it to feel like something bad is about to happen? Right from the beginning, when you first hear a TV news story about a family tragedy, it’s like something is constantly bubbling under the surface.
DD:
We were only 19 years old when we started to work on that story, but yes, that was intentional. What we had in mind was a lesson imparted by [American writer] Raymond Carver. He said that all stories must have some kind of a trigger, but you shouldn’t immediately know what it is. That was our idea – to put the viewers in a position of uneasiness. They feel that something is going to happen, but they don’t know what. Robert Altman, in his ensemble pieces, used to do that as well. His characters are together, but so what? Something still feels very, very wrong.

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